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bar.mix.master

The Importance of Garnish

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Garnish is sometimes overlooked in cocktails but I feel it is very important to the overall cocktail experience. The five senses are:

Sight, smell, taste, feel, sound

Cocktails extenuate the senses. The taste is obvious.

Two of the five senses are influenced by the garnish.

The garnish has a lot to do with the wonderfully presented cocktail in front of the guest.

A spiral, a horse head, etc... really make for a special presentation.

Not only that, but the garnish provides a very large part of the smell of the cocktail. As the guest takes a sip of the cocktail their nose is pushed in and is consumed by the smell of the garnish itself.

Because smell and taste are so closely related the garnish of the drink is extremely important.

So, if it takes you a little longer to garnish that drink... remember that the garnish is actually two of the three senses that you are affecting.

Cheers!!!


Edited by bar.mix.master (log)

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A good garnish is part of the value added by a good bartender.

At home when mixing cocktails, I admit that I hardly ever garnish with anything at all. The effort is just not worth it to me.

If a drink needs citrus oils to be right, I already have a lifetime-and-a-half's supply of Boyajian oils (back when they sold them in 5 oz bottles)... a chopstick tip dipped in the oil and then dipped in the drink does the trick quicker and more easily than molesting a lemon or lime zest in effort to make a pretty twist. Getting a pretty twist in a drink ordered out is a sure sign of a truly competent bartender, however... and makes me happy.

Maraschino cherries are kinda gross, and I gladly omit them when making manhattans. The cherries they put in Manhattans at Angel's Share (in Manhattan), on the other hand are wonderful, and further evidence for how they strive for cocktail perfection there. (They also do a mean shiso leaf garnish for a couple of drinks that is out of this world!)

What garnishes really make the cocktail? Besides the Martini/Gibson/Buckeye thing, what other drinks are truly dependent on their garnishes?


Edited by cdh (log)

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If a drink needs citrus oils to be right, I already have a lifetime-and-a-half's supply of Boyajian oils (back when they sold them in 4 oz bottles)... a chopstick tip dipped in the oil and then dipped in the drink does the trick quicker and more easily than molesting a lemon or lime zest in effort to make a pretty twist.

Hmm. I've never had a commercial citrus oil that tasted like something I'd want to use in a cocktail. I guess I also don't think it's any trouble to drag a vegetable peeler over the skin of a lemon to make a twist, either. I'm also becoming interested a bit in flaming citrus twists, having consumed a number of cocktails in recent days that were garnished this way. It really does make a difference, as the burnt citrus oils contribute a distinctive note.

Maraschino cherries are kinda gross, and I gladly omit them when making manhattans.

I'm with you with respect to Manhattans. I've always preferred them with an orange twist.

When local sour cherries start coming out, I'm going to try making my own "old school" maraschino cherries by marinating them in maraschino liqueur.

What garnishes really make the cocktail?  Besides the Martini/Gibson/Buckeye thing, what other drinks are truly dependent on their garnishes?

That's a hard one. At some point, if a garnish is integral to the success of the drink, it ceases to be a garnish and becomes an ingredient, no? For example, I would argue that the "aromatic garnish" of tipping a few drops of Angostura bitters into the foam on top of a Pisco Sour is essential. What about the profusion of mint on top of a Julep? Certainly a Ti Punch is not right without it's peculiar kind of lime twist. And a Whiskey Old Fashioned wouldn't be right without a twist. But, again, one could argue that these are ingredients rather than garnishes. If one takes the definition that a garnish is a purely decorative adornment, then none of them would be essential.

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I'm with you with respect to Manhattans.  I've always preferred them with an orange twist.

I only put the cherry in for my guest. I really don't like them too much. I will occasionally put a small drop of the cherry juice in the drink.

When local sour cherries start coming out, I'm going to try making my own "old school" maraschino cherries by marinating them in maraschino liqueur.

I'll have to try the cherry soaking. It sounds interesting.

That's a hard one.  At some point, if a garnish is integral to the success of the drink, it ceases to be a garnish and becomes an ingredient, no?  For example, I would argue that the "aromatic garnish" of tipping a few drops of Angostura bitters into the foam on top of a Pisco Sour is essential.  What about the profusion of mint on top of a Julep?  Certainly a Ti Punch is not right without it's peculiar kind of lime twist.  And a Whiskey Old Fashioned wouldn't be right without a twist.  But, again, one could argue that these are ingredients rather than garnishes.  If one takes the definition that a garnish is a purely decorative adornment, then none of them would be essential.

I guess that was the real point of this post. The garnish in most cases is truely an ingredient. Many times it is left out or the wrong garnish is used, but the aroma that comes from the garnish can truly change the way the cocktail tastes.

Try a Martini with a lemon twist and then an orange twist and taste the difference.


Edited by bar.mix.master (log)

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Sam-

I can't recommend the Boyajian citrus oils enough. They are really the same as the stuff the you get out of the zest of a citrus fruit.

There are citrus scented olive oils out there that would not work, but these oils really do. I've got both lemon and orange, and they are just like the effect of a twist. I regret I didn't pick up a bottle of the lime when I bought these two (back in 1998, if I recall correctly.)

Need to track down a supplier and round out my citrus oil collection. I recall seeing them sold in much smaller bottles the last time I saw them... which is actually kinda reasonable, since the 5 oz bottles I've got have seen maybe a half ounce of use in the last 7 years, and that includes using some as an adjunct in a brewing experiment when the orange peel I was planning to throw into a Witbier just didn't have enough orange aroma going on.

Edited to add: did a bit of googling, and they still sell their oils in 5 oz bottles... and in 1 oz bottles too. And they offer a tangerine oil... which sounds quite interesting too.


Edited by cdh (log)

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A bloody mary really depends a lot on garnish to me, and there is so much you can do with it. The drink just doesn't feel right without the stalk of celery coming out of it. The other potential garnishes are really limitless though.

I have had them with a nice grilled shrimp perched on the edge, which is a great touch, but I also had one somewhere in New Orleans that had an oyster (raw) floating on top... not the most visually appealing, but very tasty.

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I guess that was the real point of this post. The garnish in most cases is truely an ingredient. Many times it is left out or the wrong garnish is used, but the aroma that comes from the garnish can truly change the way the cocktail tastes.

I think it depends a lot on how the garnish is used. A thin lemon slice floating on top of a cocktail or a flower or a maraschino cherry or a wedge of orange or a non-twisted twist. . . these things aren't often adding much more than visual appeal. And, on the other hand, we have drinks like the Sazerac where some purists hold with the practice of twisting the lemon peel over the drink but not using it as a garnish.

I guess that, to the extent that a "garnish" contributes flavor to a cocktail I see it as a crucial ingredient. If it is merely a visual adornment, then it's "just a garnish" and I'll use it or not as the mood strikes me.

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If you have a dehydrator at your disposal you can pit and dry cherries on your own, and then reconstitute them in bourbon for manhattans.

Striped Bass does this and then gilds the lily by dunking them in chocolate. This is the garnish in their Walnut Manhattans made with Knob Creek and Nocello. A damned tasty cocktail!

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A big part of garnish with the classic drinks is in maintaining traditions. For instance the Martini wasn't originally an olive drink, and the Bloody Mary didn't originally have a celery stick in it; but if you were to present those drinks without the olive and the celery stick, a lot of people would feel cheated. It's become part of the ritual.

I agree with you on the smell.

Something I've found that's helped tremendously in understanding the proper way to make old recipes, is that if they require a dash or two of an ingredient which doesn't add color like grenedine, or strong flavor like bitters, (and of course you're sure it's not just a gimmick) it's most likely purpose is to add smell, and it should be added at the end of the drink instead of being mixed in with it.

Also leaving a healthy rim on glasses in recipes where it says "rinse glass with x", since in most of those cases, it's the smell from the rim that's the point of the exercise. (be sure to pour straight from the center so that you don't wash the rim away with the drink). Personally, I've found that if you can even let the glass rest for a minute after rinsing, it can help a lot with the aroma. Not sure how practical it is in a professional environment, although supposedly "seasoning" the glasses is popular with places that serve wine.


Edited by mbanu (log)

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The garnish also often plays a signaling role that communicates to the recipient of a drink: Look. Slow Down. Care went into this cocktail. Enjoy it.

They increase the pleasure derived from a drink by making a drinker aware of the pleasure they could be deriving from it.

If you will forgive a somewhat blasphemous comparsion, incense and candles aren't necessary for getting in touch with God, but they help create ritual conciousness in the mind of the devotee. Garnishes, especially those that require some care in preparation, create ritual conciousness in the mind of the drinker.

I think that's part of the reason they don't have the same effect when you prepare the drink yourself. Most of the time, the garnish is too much of a hassle for onesself, but it makes a difference in a served cocktail.

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I almost always do a garnish. To me it's not a cocktail without one. I love the smell and visual appeal of a nice twist, or the way the candied amarena cherry looks in the bottom of the aviation, or the yummy fizzy taste of an orange slice soaked in Campari and soda.

Last summer I tried brandy-ing and bourbon-ing sour cherries for my cocktails. I followed the methods put out by Judy Rodgers and Alice Waters (mostly be very very careful and only choose perfectly sound cherries, then guess on the sugar/water/booze ratio you want, leave a room temp for a certain amount of time and then put them in the fridge). They were a revelation and a half. I was expecting mushy boozy fruit, but what I got was a wonderfully crisp cherry with lots of aroma and flavor from the pit and a nice boozy after taste. This summer I'm making double the amount. Maybe I should try some in maraschino too.

regards,

trillium

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My dear departed aunt (one of the great social drinkers of the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's!) swore by her gin and tonic with a slice of cucumber when the weather was really hot as she said it was so refreshing.

Is this an aberration or a classic garnish?

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Erik Felten at the Wall St Journal wrote this piece about the resurgence of garnishes, comparing the "Farmer's Market crowd" to the minimalists. He doesn't mention smell or aroma at all, however, save for this slight reference:

Julie Reiner of New York's Flatiron Lounge keeps some 20 garnishes at her bar but insists that a "garnish should always have a purpose," whether it is to accentuate a flavor already in the mix or bring a touch of some other savor to a drink that alters the way you taste the liquid part.

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Sigh, I am getting so tired of this "West Coast Farmer's Market Cocktails" label.

Frankly, I see nothing wrong with edible flowers, basil leaves, or mint sprigs in cocktails.

As I have often pointed out, Jerry Thomas was using Lemon Verbena in some of the recipes in the 19th Century. Nor was Harry Johnson beyond using mint, berries, and assorted other fruit in his garnishes, at least as captured in the illustrations in his book.

I do generally think garnishes should be edible and preferably lend some flavor, scent, or character to the drink beyond simply looking good.

But, there's nothing* wrong with a drink looking like this:

gallery_27569_3448_22424.jpg

Or this:

gallery_27569_3448_26535.jpg

I will note that both of these drink pictures were taken in England, not on the West Coast.

*edit - Oops, looking at it again, I do think the second drink should have been double strained, to do away with that float of pulverized mint.


Edited by eje (log)

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Yeah, but you ordered 'em, didn't you? Fess up.

Seriously, though: did those garnishes contribute to enjoyment of those drinks, particularly olfactorially? Damn, I write sentences like I'm in HMS Pinafore....

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What? Are you accusing me of ordering foo foo cocktails?

It's true the garnishes are mostly eye candy.

But, on all three cocktails tie in thematically to the ingredients in the drinks and are edible.

Watermelon in the first. Grapefruit in the second. Mint and lemon in the third.

And the mint in the third, does contribute scent, though ultimately it would have been better if they had snipped the straw to force your nose closer...

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I agree with everything said about the importance of garnishes. A well-garnished drink makes you want savor and enjoy the total experience rather than gulp it down. But I'm not that good at creating and properly affixing garnishes, unfortunately. I mix cocktails much better than I can work with food. So even though it is more trouble than it's worth to garnish one's own drink, if I have the materials on hand, I usually try to do it for the practice. One thing that surprised me, though, was that the I found flaming orange peel trick to be much easier than I expected. That I can do! Another thing I learned from DeGroff's book is how to properly salt a glass rim (ie keeping the salt on the outside of the glass). Which is why I will never own one of those silly glass rimming trays they sell everywhere.

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Yes, affixing. Now there's a trick. I've tried everything save rubberbands to get a mint sprig to sit up.

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But [the garnishes] on all three cocktails [...] are edible.

Yeah, but I ordered a drink, not a drink and a snack. :raz:

I don't think it's especially productive to attribute any one approach to "East Coast" and "West Coast" camps, but I think the urge to categorize cocktails into "farmer's market" and what chrisamirault refers to as "minimalist" above is irresistible and not without merit. But I also think there's a case to be made for putting Mojitos into the farmer's market camp, and I'm sure there are cases that could fit into both or neither. Pigeonholes are rarely neat and clean, but that never stops anyone from building them.

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Just to clarify, my use of "minimalist" was a nod to Felten's taxonomy and his reference to "Bauhaus asceticism." As I like to think that Bauhaus asceticism is in general a good thing, I went with minimalist. Of course, when one wants a mint julep, one needn't be minimal and certainly not ascetic about the mint.

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There is a drink we have at work, which frankly embarrasses me, created by another bartender, which is nothing but a more boring version of the Cosmopolitan (didn't know that was possible did you?) that is also overly sweet. The final steps are to sink some pure Chambord into the bottom of the drink to create a layered visual effect and to float an orchid on the surface of the drink. It tastes like shit, but you wouldn't believe how popular it is, and even more amazing is that the flower is the selling point. Sometimes when busy I forget the flower and the particular type of customer who orders these never fails to remind me. It's kind of disturbing to see how excited people get as I place a flower in their drink.

It's probably mostly as a reaction against this kind of thing that I am so minimalist with garnishes. My rule, in general, is that if it isn't contributing something to the flavor of the drink, then it doesn't belong. If making a Jerry Thomas Brandy Punch, I will of course use the berries and orange slices, but that's about it.

I guess with the occasional Tiki punch I'll toss on an orange slice or something, but that's a little different for some reason.

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Yes, affixing. Now there's a trick. I've tried everything save rubberbands to get a mint sprig to sit up.

This works for Juleps and other drinks served in chimney type glasses:

Measure the length of the mint against the side of the glass and break it off so the top few leaves are just above the lip. Strip the leaves from the bottom stem section, leaving the top few pairs. Insert mint stem into glass.

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How about the use of cucumber vs the traditional borage to accent a Pimm's Cup?

Substitution of convenience, or truly an equivalent option?

edit:spelling


Edited by J_Ozzy (log)

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The garnish also often plays a signaling role that communicates to the recipient of a drink: Look. Slow Down. Care went into this cocktail. Enjoy it.

They increase the pleasure derived from a drink by making a drinker aware of the pleasure they could be deriving from it.

If you will forgive a somewhat blasphemous comparsion, incense and candles aren't necessary for getting in touch with God, but they help create ritual conciousness in the mind of the devotee. Garnishes, especially those that require some care in preparation, create ritual conciousness in the mind of the drinker.

I think that's part of the reason they don't have the same effect when you prepare the drink yourself. Most of the time, the garnish is too much of a hassle for onesself, but it makes a difference in a served cocktail.

Great post--very enlightening.

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